Nice weather, game date throwing off feel of Big Game

If Big Game week doesn't feel like Big Game week that's certainly understandable.

Until now, every Big Game since 1892 has been played no earlier than November. And the only other time it was played in mid-season was 1893, when it was the fourth of nine games, but that was only because Stanford finished the season off with a four-game tour of the Pacific Northwest.

"I don't like it," Shaw said of the early date. "I think it's weird, I think it's different."

There's no chill in the air for one thing.

"It's still warm outside," linebacker Chase Thomas said. "But the same energy level will be there come game time."

* * *

Cal offers its own set of difficulties. Quarterback Zach Maynard is inconsistent, but has great running ability and has a good arm.

"We've got to keep him in the pocket," Stanford coach David Shaw said.

Maynard's brother, Keenan Allen, is 6-foot-4, can make the big play, and is a punt-return threat. Shaw calls him "one of the best receivers in the country."

"He can get to speed quickly, he runs strong, he runs great routes, and he can catch the ball in traffic," Shaw said.

Thomas said one advantage has been Stanford's experience playing against mobile quarterbacks, players such as Washington's Keith Price, and Notre Dame's Everett Golson.

"It definitely helps that we've faced some fast guys," Thomas said. "It's definitely good preparation for what we'll see from Cal's quarterback."

Cal's defense is unpredictable. The Golden Bears could line up with anywhere from 2-5 down linemen, and use a combination of blitz packages along with nickel and dime alignments.

"This is very unique," Shaw said. "It reminds me of stuff you see every week in the NFL.

"For us, it's about where are the defenders located, not just who they are, but where they are, so we can block in the running game and in pass protection."

* * *

There may not have been a whistle on the final play at Notre Dame, but many Stanford players say they heard one late in the fourth quarter on a third-and-2 from the Irish 3-yard line. Taylor and others eased up on the play and the running back was tackled for a seven-yard loss.

"I just wanted to know what the rule was," Shaw said. "There's audio, I've heard it. I didn't hear it at the time, but people on the sidelines said they heard it. The players obviously heard it, not all the players, but a good number of players heard it.

"It also happened at the Michigan game at Notre Dame, probably same area of the field, and they replayed the down. Once again, I wanted to know what the procedure was. What can we do better next time?"

* * *

Another play that Stanford sent to the Pac-12 involved a Usua Amanam's hit on Irish quarterback Golson. Amanam was flagged for helmet-to-helmet contact, but the nickelback disputed that judgment.

"I've watched it a million times," Amanam, said. "I made contact with my shoulder, it wasn't helmet to helmet. Unfortunately, he did get hurt and that may have been one of the reasons they threw the flag. One of their main obligations is to minimize injuries."

* * *

Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes struggled at Notre Dame, and the offense was unable to score a touchdown -- the second time that's happened in as many road games.

"We still hold him accountable on what we expect, like a high completion percentage," Shaw said. "For the throws that we believe he can make, he's got to make them.

"It goes back to footwork, being balanced. That's what young quarterbacks need to work on a lot. It doesn't help when a quarterback hasn't played for three years. When he stays loaded, as Pep (Hamilton) says, and stays balanced -- everything mechanically is great. Everything is about being balanced all the time."

If Nunes hasn't performed well on the road, how concerned is Shaw with the team headed to Berkeley?

"I'm concerned," Shaw said. "We have to play better, not just him. We haven't played well on offense on the road. We can play much better and we're going to need to play much better."

* * *

The fumble that Thomas recovered in the end zone against Notre Dame was his first since his senior year at Walton High School in Marietta, Ga. While playing defensive end, he tipped a pass, caught the ball, and returned it for a score. He also played tight end, but never scored.

"I was tackled at the one about four times," he said.

* * *

The Notre Dame loss has been described by some players as on par with January's 41-38 overtime Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State as the toughest they've experienced at Stanford.

But can the Cardinal put that frustration aside and prepare properly for Cal? "Definitely, yesterday (Monday) it wasn't gone," Thomas said. "But once we start focusing on Cal, I'm hoping everyone can forget about it. It's definitely a tough one to let go of. For the Big Game we've got to refocus and regroup as a team and make sure everyone's attention is on this game."

Said Amanam, "We can't really sit here and think about Notre Dame anymore. We lost. The game is over. Move on to Cal."

* * *

A few weeks ago, Zach Ertz disparaged the goalkeeping abilities of fellow tight end Levine Toilolo during the football's team's annual spring soccer showdown with the Stanford women's team.

This week, Toilolo was given the opportunity to respond.

"I like to think I'm a better goalie," Toilolo said. "I think that the goals they scored on me were better shots than they were against him. One of them was a diving header that I don't think Zach could have stopped either. I was kind of surprised by her effort on that.

"Another one was a breakaway -- I don't know where my defense was at. Yeah, I like to think I'm a better goalie than Zach."

* * *

Regardless of near-misses against Washington and Notre Dame -- Shaw said a 4-2 record at this point is not disappointing.

"It's a good place for us right now," Shaw said. "I'm pleased with a lot of things I've seen so far from our team. We're still in the conference race and we've got a chance to finish the year strong."

* * *

Linebacker A.J. Tarpley said the defense has no grounds to be frustrated with the offense, despite a strong performance against Notre Dame during which the defense accounted for the Cardinal's only touchdown -- much as in Stanford's earlier 17-13 loss at Washington.

"It's a team game," Tarpley said. "We have scored twice on the road, but we haven't come up with stops. We could have stopped them in overtime, but we weren't able to accomplish that. We never try and let four quarters dictate how good we played if we can't get that last stop. We should be frustrated with ourselves, not anyone else."

* * *

Tarpley, a starter last season, now rotates with sophomore James Vaughters at inside linebacker.

"It's not harder, it's just different," Tarpley said. "You get used to it.

"In the past, you used to be out there every play and you could see every play that they're doing. This year, if one of us is off a series, we're not going to see every play that they're running. We have to listen to the other guys communicate to us: What should we expect? Things like that. We trust each other to let us know what's going on."

-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics


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